How to choose?
I have spent a long career working in the defence industry in the north-west of England, having been educated and trained as a systems engineer. When I retired some ten years ago, I started to look around to find things to do that would occupy my time while at the same time being fulfilling and enjoyable.
There are myriad opportunities out there crying out for some of your time: how do you choose what to do?
I was lucky to still be in very good health, enjoyed being active and working outdoors and was loathe to continue working in an office if I could avoid it. I was always good at working with my hands and fixing things and had developed practical skills undertaking numerous DIY projects.
‘There are myriad opportunities out there crying out for some of your time: how do you choose what to do?’
I knew that before committing to some enterprise I would have to see it as worthwhile and a good use of my time and skills.
To commit or not to commit…
There is an old Georgian manor house, Lytham Hall, just around the corner from where I live, which was known as Lancashire’s best kept secret. It had recently been acquired by a local charitable trust who were looking for volunteers to work in the house, café and 78 acres of grounds.
Despite having lived next door to this place for nearly 40 years I had rarely set foot over the threshold and when I saw an open day advertised, my wife and I decided to pop in for a look around. We enjoyed our afternoon out and entered a free prize draw to win a wooden sculpture carved by chainsaw. The only entry requirement was to sign up for a taster session working on the grounds.
Peter at work on a formal garden project at Lytham Hall
Much to my surprise I won the draw and, having had my photograph taken with Cuthbert the owl, I got to take him home. I attended a couple of volunteer sessions rhododendron-bashing and laying woodchip paths and thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing.
So, here was something worth doing, something that would make good use of my skills and enthusiasm, something I was sure I would enjoy – should I commit myself?
God’s will or personal whim?
I had been a Christian for more than 40 years at this point and had always tried to discern God’s will before making any big decisions. How should I determine if this was something God wanted me to do rather than just a personal whim?
Logically I knew this would make good use of my skills and abilities. I knew that I would enjoy the range of tasks to be undertaken. In my heart I loved the idea of taking a manor house and grounds that had been the exclusive preserve of one highly privileged family and converting it for the local community to enjoy.
‘How should I determine if this was something God wanted me to do rather than just a personal whim?’
I felt that this would be a great opportunity to work out my faith in the world. What did God think of it all? Would he approve of my reasoning and feelings? I covered this liberally in prayer.
I have been working a couple of days a week at the hall for ten years now and have thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of what I have done. I have been driving a big tractor and dumper for several years, surely every little boy’s dream.
I look back at the hundreds of yards (sorry, metres) of stone paths we have laid, the steps installed up the mount, the old boathouse discovered and reclaimed, the kitchen garden created, the formal gardens restored, and many bridges, weirs and drains built. There have been so many God instances while I have been there that I know it was the right place to be rubbing shoulders with the world and his dog.
‘There have been so many God instances while I have been there that I know it was the right place to be.’
A sound decision-making process
You may have discerned in the above dialogue that part of the decision-making process involved my thought processes – did this opportunity make sense for me?
At the same time, I believed that this was the right thing to do with a good chunk of my retirement effort – did I sense that God would approve of this course of action? Did this use of my time fit in with my heart values of what was important to me? Having prayed about this voluntary role, what did I discern God was saying about it all? Did I discover a peace that passes all understanding in deciding to commit myself to this endeavour?
These questions allude to all the key components of a sound decision-making process.
My friend Iain Dunbar I have spent the past 18 months writing Good Call: learning to make decisions with God. In the book we address the balance between making decisions with your head (analysis) and with your heart (sensing/feeling). We tackle the question of how you know what God is saying about the decision in hand. We investigate making decisions on our own, with a significant other and with a larger group of people. We cite many examples of decisions we have made – the good, the bad and the ugly – and encourage you to examine your own track record.
We refer constantly to scripture for key principles and wisdom as well as examples of decision-making in action. We come to the conclusion that the key to a sound decision is reaching a consensus with God which grows out of a living relationship with him.
‘The key to a sound decision is reaching a consensus with God which grows out of a living relationship with him.’
If you’re concerned to improve your own decision-making, then please read Good Call and let us know how you get on. Send any feedback or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, marked for our attention, and your message will be passed on to us.